Your throat is a tube that carries food to your esophagus and air to your windpipe and larynx. The technical name for throat is pharynx.
You can have a sore throat for many reasons. Often, colds and flu cause sore throats.
Other causes can include:
- Strep throat
- Tonsillitis - an infection in the tonsils
Treatment depends on the cause. Sucking on lozenges, drinking lots of liquids and gargling may ease the pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help, but children should not take aspirin.
What is Tonsillitis ?
Tonsillitis is when the tonsils (at the back of your mouth on each side of your throat) become infected by bacteria or a virus. It causes the tonsils to swell and can cause a sore throat and other symptoms. Signs of strep throat and tonsillitis are often alike .
Sore Throat Causes
- Sore throats are commonly caused by viruses (often the same viruses that cause colds or other upper respiratory illnesses) or bacteria (such as the infection of streptococcal bacteria commonly called strep throat).
- Sore throat may also be caused by chemicals (cigarette smoke), injury (a scrape from a bone fragment), allergy or postnasal drip, or, rarely, cancer (early cancer often presents with painless symptoms).
- Certain medical treatments can cause a sore throat (tonsillectomy, airway management during an operation, or cancer treatment with chemotherapy or radiation).
Symptoms of Tonsillitis and Strep Throat
- Sore throat
- White patches in your throat or on your tonsils
- Pain when you swallow
- Red and swollen tonsils
- Swollen, sore glands in your jaw and throat
- Abdominal pain (usually in children)
- Vomiting (usually in children who have strep throat)
Exams and Tests
History and physical examination are the most important tools in diagnosis. When epiglottitis is suspected, neck x-rays may be helpful. A blood count and antibody test may be helpful when mononucleosis is suspected (although not often necessary, because mononucleosis is a viral illness generally requiring only symptomatic treatment).
A throat swab to check for a strep throat infection (strep throat is a common name for streptococcal pharyngitis) is useful in selected cases. The so-called "rapid strep" test is sometimes unreliable, however, so often a doctor prescribes antibiotics based on the history and examination alone. A throat culture is a more reliable test, but the results take 24 hours to return. Treatment with antibiotics can be either initiated on a delayed basis or discontinued if begun already based on this final result.
Sore Throat Treatment
Treatment of pain is often the number 1 priority if you have a sore throat.
- Throat lozenges often prove inadequate for all but the most minor cases.
- Gargling with salt water is sometimes helpful. (You may try mixing table salt with warm water and gargling.)
- Although they may be rough on the stomach, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) are often more effective pain relievers than acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Drinking enough fluids is very important.
- A fever can increase fluid requirements, and painful swallowing can decrease fluid intake.
- When it is hard for you to drink, it is important to decrease your body's requirements for fluid through rest and lowering any fever.
- Pain treatment can help increase fluid intake.
- Choose high-quality fluids such as soup broth (replaces both salt and water losses) and sugar-containing solutions (they help your body absorb the fluids more rapidly).
- Avoid caffeine because it can cause water loss.
- Getting extra sleep can promote more rapid recovery, especially if a virus is the cause. Malaise (a general feeling of illness) is the body's cry for rest.
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